In the previous chapter of Romans, Paul has written something that sounds very odd – shocking really. He said, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Now since the law comes from God, you don’t expect it to be arousing sinful passions. After all, as Paul affirms just a little later, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
But what Paul explains in chapter seven is that since the Fall – since the entrance of sin through the disobedience of Adam – sin has been using the law to arouse and create more sin. Paul writes, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”
The apostle has already said in chapter three, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Paul has made it clear that the doing of the Torah – the law – cannot bring about the status of being righteous in God’s eyes. Instead, the law shows us our sin. It shows us all the ways that we love various things more than God. It shows us all the ways that we love ourselves, instead of loving our neighbor.
But now he goes beyond this by saying that the law itself is taken up by sin in order to produce even more sin. It becomes very clear in Paul’s writings that the real problem is not the law. Instead, we are the problem. The law itself provides no power for living in ways that follow God’s will. And in this setting our sinful, fallen nature takes over and uses the law to prompt every kind of sin. Paul refers to this sin at work in us as the “flesh,” just as we hear him say in our text tonight, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.”
The flesh – the condition in which we are all conceived and born into this world – does nothing but sin. Just before our text, Paul has written, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” As flesh – as fallen sinners – we do nothing except spiral down into more sin. And this can have only one outcome. Paul has already written in chapter two about unrepentant sinners, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.”
However, because there was no hope for us as flesh – as fallen sinners – God acted to save us. Paul says at the beginning of this chapter, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
God the Father sent his Son into the world in the flesh. He sent him as the second Adam. He sent the Son in the flesh in order to condemn sin in the flesh – in the flesh of Jesus Christ on the cross. God has judged sin. He has judged your sin. He did it on Good Friday when Christ died in your place; when Christ died for your sins.
But for Paul, Christ’s death is only half of the story. In this letter the apostle describes Christ as the One “who who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the new beginning. The apostle told the Corinthians, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
God the Father raised up Jesus, and then the Lord - who is still true God and true man – was exalted to the right hand of God in his ascension. We celebrated this ten days ago. But before he ascended Jesus told the disciples not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Tonight we begin the celebration of the fact that God did pour fourth his Spirit on Pentecost. And while tomorrow we will focus on the event itself, tonight we consider what the presence of the Spirit means for us. Paul wants us to know that the presence of the Spirit has completely changed the situation I have just described. He has just said to the Romans, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
The Spirit of God has changed us. He has given us regeneration – rebirth. He has worked faith. He has made us a new creation in Christ. Where the law provided no power for living in the ways of God, the Holy Spirit is now the source by which we are able to do so. You are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit! Why can I say this to each one of you with certainty? Because you have been baptized!
The presence of the Holy Spirit means that the power of the One who raised Christ is in you. In the verse just before our text Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” God will raise your body from the dead through the work of the Spirit. The same Spirit is in you now, working the life of faith made possible by Christ.
Because this is so, Paul says in our text, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” The apostle addresses the reality that while the presence of the Spirit makes new life possible, this does not yet mean the flesh is completely gone. Instead, our fallen nature continues to hinder us and seeks to drag us into sin.
Paul says that by means of the Spirit we need to put death the deeds of the body. The Holy Spirit provides the ability to resist and suppress the old Adam and what he wants us to do. It is the Spirit who leads us in this, for as Pauls says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” He leads. He provides the ability. But of course Paul writes these words because it is also necessary for us to follow the Spirit’s leading. It is necessary for us to use the Spirit’s power in order to put to death the deeds of the body. It is something we must have as a goal and intention.
The Holy Spirit is the One who sustains us in this life of faith. Paul says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Because of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are now able to be sons and daughters of God. God has made us this through the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit is also the one who enables us to call upon God as our Father.
The Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost in these last days in the One who affirms within us that we do indeed belong to God. Pauls says that, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” God himself is bearing witness within us, and along with us, that we are his; that we are his children. And at the end of our text the apostle reminds us that this means everything when he adds: “and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
We are fellow heirs with Christ. His death has given us forgiveness of sins and peace with God. His resurrection provides the guarantee of our own resurrection. And the Holy Spirit is within us so that we can follow our Lord and suffer with him. The Spirit is the One who gives us peace, and joy, and hope in the midst of those things, because we know that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. The Spirit poured out on Pentecost is the One who will transform our bodies to be like our Lord when we are glorified with him on the Last Day.